A Staples Senior Looks At Veterans Day

Every year, Bill Vornkahl — organizer of Westport’s Veterans Day ceremonies — asks Staples High School assistant principal Rich Franzis to recommend a senior to speak.

Franzis — a veteran himself — always finds an outstanding 12th grader. This year was no exception.

Spencer Daniels — a Staples soccer team captain who has earned a nomination to the US Military Academy — delivered these remarks yesterday.

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”  -G.K. Chesterton

Serving one’s country, motivated by patriotism, is the most honorable commitment one can make. Willingly accepting the negatives of war and battle in order to defend the freedoms we have been blessed with is, honestly, incredible.

Spencer Daniels delivers Veterans Day remarks at Town Hall.

Spencer Daniels delivers Veterans Day remarks at Town Hall.

All those who have dedicated their lives to serving our country know one thing for certain. While in service, as well as civilian life, the primary list of priorities, and the basis for nearly all vital decisions, is Mission, Men, Me, or “M.M.M.”

Soldiers, and thus veterans, have a different set of values from others. Typically, individuals are motivated to help themselves. Soldiers cannot have this mentality.

As a United States Military Academy commit, I have already begun applying this to my own life. I began to understand the true meaning of MMM after speaking with Sean Gallagher, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, who also happens to be a former Staples soccer player. He guided me through everything he experienced that led him to follow the Mission, Men, Me structure. He did this in order to help me lead our soccer team in the best way possible.

He helped me understand that the mission, which is winning the state championship, matters most. Everything that our team does must help us achieve our mission.

The next most important thing on the priorities list is my teammates. Unhappy, lethargic and disappointed teammates would hurt us, so my second priority was to ensure that all players were happy, respected, and valued.

Finally, if there is room, I can worry and focus on myself. However, mission and men always come before me.



Spencer Daniels (3rd from right) gives everything he has on the soccer field in a pre-season scrimmage. The back of Staples’ t-shirts say “MMM.” (Photo/Frances Rowland)

After learning more about MMM, we decided to order Staples soccer preseason jerseys that had no numbers, but merely just MMM. This allowed us to focus more on our mission. Instead of everyone with their own numbers, we decided to represent our team as unified. With these preseason shirts, we showed that we were not a bunch of individuals playing together, but rather a team.

Now, enough about myself. The main message of my speech to you is that the patriotism, as well as the commitment to service, that was alive in all of your generations, is still much alive today. Although it may not always seem like it, commitment to service and country, as well as patriotism, are qualities present in my generation.

We have these qualities embedded in our roots due to the brave men who served before us. Our generation still feels the immense patriotism that many of your generations have passed onto us, and that will never fade for Americans.

We still feel, although it is not tangible, the struggle and pain you went through in order to ensure our freedom, protection, and the American way of life.

Spencer Daniels with Bill Vornkahl, longtime organizer of Westport's Veterans and Memorial Day celebrations.

Spencer Daniels with Bill Vornkahl, longtime organizer of Westport’s Veterans and Memorial Day celebrations.

So many teenagers still feel the obligation to serve, and I am proud to call myself one of these people. I, just like every other individual who chooses to serve, have service and patriotism embedded in my bones.

When I was 5 years old, I decided to have a military birthday party. I found doing PT and fighting invisible enemies far more interesting than a magician. I believe that my decision to serve our country began when I was just a little boy. One great influence on me was my great-grandfather, an Air Force veteran, who ran my birthday party.

On top of just myself, many of my classmates, even in a school with incredible wealth like Staples, choose to serve. Instead of following the “normal” path of going to college, becoming a banker, and making a ton of money, there are many individuals who want to join the military. Currently we have 5 applicants to service academies, and 7 individuals who are committed to enlisting immediately after high school graduation.

Memorial Day - Town Hall flag - 2016Service and patriotism run through all servicemembers’ blood, and is passed down from generation to generation. Those of you who have served have passed down, through your service, undeniable traits of patriotism and commitment to service.

While many of my classmates decide to compare cars, wealth, and other material possessions, we 12 have committed to serving our country. Without previous generations and their commitment to protecting our country, that number would be zero, and we would see those traits fade with every generation.

So for those who served, I would like to personally thank each and every one of you. Without you, I would not have to opportunity to serve. I am truly blessed, and proud to call all of you veterans of the United States Armed Forces.

Veterans such as my great-grandfather have had a significant impact on my choosing to serve. Without veterans, I would not have made the decisions that I have made.

I look forward to following in your footsteps as a leader in the armed forces. I appreciate the time you have given me, and I hope I will make all of you proud. Thank you.

23 responses to “A Staples Senior Looks At Veterans Day

  1. Michael Calise

    The participation by Staples students each year makes the ceremony even more meaningful. Spenser’s speech was great. It reminded me of Staples 58 where a group of eight of us joined the Marine’s

  2. More recent Staples “generations” (late 60s/70s) were antimilitary antiwar — inc. the 1971 class of the baby boom generation WITHIN their social studies classes which had to be held outside due to the numbers of students. (See the old photos of the antiwar/antiVietnam protest in downtown Westport).

    My post-baby boom generation (Class of 78 — first gen. born in the 60s) were anti-war AND anti antiwar-people-who-then-lost-the-thread (Hence Punk & Rap/Hip Hop etc. You are welcome world).

    Some people — such as those in my family that have experienced war on the ground UNDER THE BOMBS as civilians — would argue that “the most honorable commitment one can make” is to HUMANKIND & HUMAN BEINGS vs. nationalism. Unless you like seeing a mother stuck in melted asphalt in a burning street acting as a human torch/wick trying to hold her baby high enough before it get’s engulfed in fire as the top part of the wick. Or walking down the street w/ your hair on fire & the soles of your shoes burned off — past the burning buildings on either side of you — such as my mother did (under US bombs). Or watching your father’s elderly friend who walked w/ a cane & so could not run killed by being sucked into a burning building because of the backdraft — such as my mother had to do under the US bombs. Or being surrounded by your ancient city now piles of rubble filled w/ the rotting corpses of your neighbours giving off a horrible stench that you will remember for the rest of your life & having to help dig those bodies out — as my mother had to do after US bombing. I am STILL looking for the fate of my grandmother’s sister who “went missing under the bombs” (United States bombs) as there was such CHAOS & various archives (Soviet & Red Cross) were only opened about ten years ago.

    WOW. This blog is ASTOUNDING. This is what my hometown Westport is like NOW? I had NOT A CLUE what I was getting into. Now I am apparently reading a recruitment magazine for nationalist oriented DEATH & DESTRUCTION. Thinking about your country ABOVE others IS thinking about YOURSELF.

    I LOVE young people — hence I have hesitated to write this: I do NOT love WAR. It is ALWAYS written & spoken about by the occupying & attacking military as “defending” one’s “country” & nation. That is the usual LIE.

    And for the bullies & trolls on this blog who have attacked me inc. by calling me a “leftist victim” ETC. I am not a leftist actually. I am not going to illustrate how as that would take too long except to say that there are not a lot of Orthodox Xtians married at age 21 — whose first dream in life was to become a mother & grandmother — who would be called “leftist”. As for the word “victim”: if one (me) has only attempted to defend OTHER people on this blog — it does not even make sense to be called someone who has taken a position of a “victim”. (Which is anyway just a sociopath’s way of trying to silence people. Calling them a “leftist victim” for defending Muslims & others in a blog thread on Trump).

    Please remember WE are the ones w/ the superior technology & the drones attacking people OUTSIDE of our national borders. That is NOT “defending” OUR country.

    • *Should be ‘gets’ NOT “get’s”. New to English readers: Please ignore the greengrocer’s apostrophes that creep into my posts. They are in fact — wrong. (This occurs despite my proofreading a half dozen times). 🙂

    • PS: My grandfather — a Frankfurt born & raised book loving pacifist — was drafted into WWI in Germany & won the Iron Cross for being seriously wounded (shot in the lungs). He was so disgusted w/ war & being a “veteran” that he threw away his medal. (You can see more of the reasons why in my previous post re. Veterans Day). He had taken part in The Christmas Truce where soldiers refused to fight each other & exchanged gifts & played football (soccer) the next day (25 December) instead. My grandfather (& also historians) said the upper brass got wind of it and changed the officers and my grandfather found himself being shot at again.

  3. Ms. Kassis: I appreciate your thoughts and the hardship your family has gone through; mine has too, under German Nazi occupation. However, the reality of our world is, we need strong armed forces specifically to be stronger than evil. The strength of a country’s army does not reside in it going to war, but in it being a deterrent to others willing to attack its freedom. If the US had not had such a strong military body, what would have happened to Europe during WWII? The strength of our military ensures that we remain free. You have the freedom of expression to write anything you want on a blog, and should be grateful for the values our armed forces have fought for. Again I appreciate your peaceful sentiment, but the reality of our world makes armed forces a necessity. And I, for one, am very grateful for those who are ready to sacrifice everything so you and I can be free. We are the armchair quarterbacks, while they are the ones who ensure our safety. Without our military, drafting would be necessary, but thanks to our professional service men and women, you can be safe at home while others sacrifice their lives. Please show some respect for those who serve so that your life is what it is today: free, safe of tyrans, and comfortable in your own home.

    • @A.Daniels

      Firstly: we are supposed to use our FULL names here. I am out on a limb here ALONE in many of my views on this blog & am forced to use my full name — but others constantly post without doing so.

      Secondly: bombing civilians is a war crime. Third: our country has not been invaded. Fourth: 9/11 was a terrorist attack.

      Furthermore: the response I gave to the article was regarding previous Staples graduates supposedly being pro-military & pro-war. As a Staples graduate I knew ONE person (Class of 76 — two years ahead of me) who went into the Navy & unless a war is fought w/ mops & pails he would probably lose.

      Here’s what: I have heard your argument — I hear it every SINGLE day as it is the predominant argument & almost the ONLY one ever spoken in America. It is weird that you think I have never heard it. What *I* wrote of are things NOT heard in America & that is WHY I wrote them here.

      For one example above: how many people know that asphalt melts & people get stuck in it & turn into human TORCHES Sir? Not ALOT in the States. I also defended the 2000 students in my brother’s Staples Class of 71 who protested war AT STAPLES. Nothing else could be taught at times so they held *classes* — basically anti-war meetings w/ social studies teachers out on the grass. The author is too young to know that. Especially since all the anti-war people have apparently left town — if this blog is any indication. I feel like I’m in the film ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’. Perhaps there is a large botanical looking pod w/ my double waiting for me somewhere as well.

      Please do not talk to me about “respect” Sir. I HAVE “respect” Sir: for HUMAN LIFE. Do you? Because I am sick & tired of this party line going completely unchallenged. Not even a NUANCED thoughtful argument. WE have the technology. WE have the superior power. WE have the planes. WE have the drones. It is then UP TO US to get a SOUL about why someone MIGHT be a BIT angry when we annihilate their wedding parties or give billions of $$$ to the State of Israel to bomb Lebanese & Palestinians schools & hospitals & ambulances & Red Cross compounds. YOUR points are understood by everyone. I hear them ceaselessly EVERY SINGLE DAY. Mine are not heard. So perhaps you are the one who should have some “respect”.

      Btw: I married an Italian Navy Officer. They are required to do several years of service. He was only an officer because in Italy as a musician one is immediately made an officer. (Classist society which regards musicians as part of the demi monde simply for playing an instrument). As a “veteran” all he talked about was the fear & the panic. I am sick & tired of Americans ROMANTICISING WAR & the military and here’s WHAT: so is the rest of the world. This is not done in other nations inc. in the British Isles & Scandinavia & Europe & Latin America.

      Please look into how you are viewed by the rest of the world — inc. those nations & cultures with which you probably identify. Go tell a survivor of Dresden & Hiroshima how very right you are. See how well that goes over. The truth is this innocent arrogance is what gets us into trouble in the first place.

      Please explain to me the sentences given for the lunatic soldiers that raped a fourteen year old Iraqi girl & killed her six year old sister & parents before setting her on fire. Which were basically ZERO. I am frankly sick & tired of this unbridled glorification of war & US soldiers w/ ZERO other voices around here until I get to New Haven & New York where not coincidentally all my friends are. Where the anti-war Westporters went I don’t know.

      Finally the Nazis — despite having murdered members of my family — were not the only evil actors in WWII. My grandfather was taken into slave labour by one of the ALLIES: Russia. My mother saw a Black American soldier lynched (yes by rope) in Berlin by US military. My schoolmate’s mother was raped in France by a US soldier. I am simply sick & tired of this cartoonish GOOD vs. EVIL fantasising that Americans partake in. Why is it that when you meet an English person or Irish person — for only two examples — w/ very similar cultures to ours a) they know more about other cultures b) they are able to discuss their own faults in a nuanced & reflective way. The inability of Americans to look inward is what costs them their (& hence my) safety. I am not the only person on the planet who sees that.

      • Armelle Daniels

        My full name is Armelle Daniels, I do not hide my name, just typed quickly. I am not a “sir,” i am a woman. Your point of view is respected. It just saddens me that kids are sacrificing their lives so u can express urself freely and yet u cannot acknowledge that very fact. You live in a free country, free thanks to our armed forces and our democracy, which was put in place after a war. It seems you cannot express gratitude for what is given to you. The horror stories you are describing, such as rape and lynching, r not a product of armed forces; they stem from bad people, who are everywhere, among civilians, armed forces, whites, blacks… unfortunately among every people. “All cats are mortals but not all mortals are cats.” Please do not use a blog post honoring those who fought for the very liberties you choose to live with, as a platform for your anger at humanity – what you despise is the dark in people, not the dark in armed forces.

        • No — actually I do “despise the dark” IN “armed forces”. If a blog is used as a platform for romanticising killing civilians — then I suppose I can offer the opposite perspective. Unless Dan silences me. I wrote a postscript re. the “freedom of speech” you mention — before I was able to read your answer to me which mentioned it again.

          I will say it again here: MANY other democracies on the planet have “freedom of speech” yet WITHOUT the arrogance & sense of superiority & untethered romanticisation of soldiers & the military & war. You have glossed over the fact that those you’ve called “bad” people — who just happen to be acting as military — faced almost ZERO punishment. Nor could the average person on a US street even describe what incidents I am referring to. The issue — & I will say this as an Arab — is that NOBODY HERE CARES that a fourteen year old Arab girl was gang raped WHILST hearing her six year old sister & parents murdered. Did you even follow that case madame? Tell me the name of the girl & her little sister then. WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS. You are making excuses as it was not ONE “bad man”. It was a GROUP of SOLDIERS. More than one. AND there have been more than ONE incident like this. I just had room for ONE example.

          You talk of freedom of speech — yet tell me this is not the place to voice that. I do appreciate my freedom of speech Madame. My mother is a DP from Nazi Germany > Russian Zone > US Zone brought over by the Red Cross. My grandfather is a Syrian refugee from the Ottoman Genocide. I appreciate it so much I AM USING IT HERE. Which is EXACTLY what they would want me to do.

          That is NOT the issue. At issue is the very BEST way to retain that AND keep ourselves safe from terrorism. OTHER countries have “free speech” yet don’t go around frankly militarily terrorising people as we do — which causes retribution. These are not novel ideas of mine. How would you feel if lethal DRONES were flying over Westport or wherever it is you are typing from? But it is perfectly fine for the OTHER. Well I am here to say w/ my “free speech” that that is NOT FINE. It is endangering us. It has made our lives unsafe. My family came here for safety. People behaving recklessly w/ unchastened power are ruining that safety for everyone.

        • @ Armelle Daniels

          I do not have “anger at humanity”: that is actually the opposite of what I wrote. I wrote that I LOVE humanity over nationalism. At issue is not “anger”. I am not even “angry” — I am having a necessary discourse as people’s actual LIVES are at stake.

          At issue is the BEST way to stay safe from terrorists IN the States AND the safety of Americans abroad AND the safety of innocent civilians in every country we are at *war* w/ in addition to those in Palestine & Yemen who we are indirectly at *war* w/ via supporting the nations that are at *war* w/ them. Although — as others have said in the case of Palestine — any *war* in which the primary casualties are children cannot really be termed a *war*.

    • PS: Other countries (Japan & Canada & Europe & Australia etc.) have freedom of speech without our extreme unbridled arrogance & sense of superiority. I & others happen to believe that stomping around in big boots crushing weaker people as a *preventative measure* as you have illustrated & suggested is a reason for our safety — puts us in greater danger rather than less. What you have suggested — that we appear so brutal & relentless that everyone will fear us & hence leave us alone has not & does not & will not work any longer. Case in point: terrorist attacks against us. A refusal for Americans to look at their own behaviour & see what even our friends see (British & Scandinavians etc.) is dangerous. Americans are their own worst enemy in this regard.

      • Armelle Daniels

        Yes, i see how it is working really well in Europe… no terrorist attacks there!!!

        • ? Excuse me madame: that is because their governments are fighting along side us — are they not? I was referring to the fact that when one is speaking to a European or Latin American etc. — a civilian — one is able to have a nuanced intelligent & self reflective conversation. Vs. here — where people say things like “The Greatest Country In The World!” & “Support Our Troops!” etc. w/ ZERO self-reflection regarding the IMPACT that our off the chain military might has on the rest of the world.

          Are you even really reading what I am saying? How would you FEEL if DRONES were flying round killing your friends & neighbours. I’m not saying that everyone else is sainted. I am saying something ELSE. This is quite useless as usual. Other people in other countries that have “free speech” are able to be more self reflective & discuss their flaws. This is simply the truth.

          • Armelle Daniels

            I was just at West Point where I met many exchange students from Europe. They do not share ur views. I do not either, and i am French born and raised. I love living in a country that is as patriotic as the USA. That said, i respect ur point of view and wish you the best. Just know that the countries and continents u refer to all gained their freedom from wars, or from protection from countries at war. Just understand that those countries and continents do not have it perfect either, and that the ideology u r referring to in these other parts of the world are not shared by all there… there r different opinions in each country. I wish you a good night in your safe home.

            • I am aware of the divergent views of Europeans — as I am half German & there they have Pegida of course & there is The National Front in England & Golden Dawn in Greece etc. I think European students visiting West Point does not give a true cross section of European youth though. Just as a visit to a subversive edgy art gallery — for example — would not. The very issue I am referring to is “safety”. My “home” is no longer safe EXACTLY for the reasons I have described which have to do with “war”. 9/11 was a response by terrorists. An EVIL response — but a response none the less. Regardless of the *effectiveness* in the past — against Hitler for example — everything is changed now. It is not winnable in the same way. We have to find new ways in life — when old ways only make things worse. Bon Nuit Madame.

            • @ Armelle Daniels

              PS: I do not live in a “safe home” as you assumed. No locks on the building — denied police protection etc. I do not live in Westport (though I was born & raised there). Not everyone in the States or even in CT or Fairfield County lives in a “safe home”.

              • Zoe, try to lighten up, just a bit. First initial rather than first name is such an issue for you? You seem so angry and that is sad. There are many people of all differnt backgrounds who have had struggles in their lives. It’s a beautiful Sunday, make a visit to Westport and take a nice walk at compo . My guess is it will make you felel better……

                • @ Matt Bannon

                  ? Line 3 says I do not live in Westport.

                  ? You have used the “angry” trope before.

                  ? I am a human rights activist. Obviously. As the previous posts indicate. These issues re. war & Palestinians & Lebanese & Yemen & Afghanistan etc. are issues that some people are concerned with. I am one of those people.

                  Please do not contact me. I am no longer posting on Dan’s blog. I have only answered this as it came in my inbox — due to the serious subject matter.

                • Re. “Try to lighten up just a bit” It occurred to me that you may never have ecountered a human rights anti-war activist before. This is what I have been doing s.1990 –attempting to protect Arabs from being bombed by the USA & Israel. Done here.

                  • Lol
                    7:45 you state your no longer posting on dans blog
                    9:42 you blog again

                    I hope you have more success as an activist then you did staying off the blog…….

                    USA USA USA

                    • I was referring to NEW POSTS & NEW comments on my part. Not answering an — in this case abusive — comment that is fed to my inbox. As I have unsubscribed you will no longer be able to attack me as you are doing on new posts. The last comment was regarding your ‘tone policing’. That is when someone has no comment to make on the substance of the issue but rather attacks the anti-war activist for being “angry”. Why are you trolling me? It is really SOCIOPATHIC. Trolling is when someone harasses someone but offers zero constructive argument. Sociopathy is revealed by a complete lack of empathy.

                    • “M” Bannon is named Matt Bannon everyone. He is trolling me as he did on another thread. He only responds w/ abusive comments after I have said something about Syrians or Arabs — of which I am one. This is racist bullying. It has increased since the nomination of Trump. He lacks empathy. That is a dangerous trait to encounter.

  4. God Bless you Spencer

  5. Although I did not serve my country in the military as a nurse I take care of everyone I meet in my career with dignity and compassion. My family on both sides has a long history of service to our country, my grandfather was a doughboy in WW I and exposed to mustard gas, both of my uncles flew fighter planes in WWII, one shot down in France was rescued by the French underground and escaped safely due to his having been raised speaking French as his first language, he continued to serve in the United States Airforce as a Liutenant Colonel flying F 14,s, my other uncle was also shot down in France and managed despite taking gunfire in both arms to be safely rescued by US forces, he became a Captain for Pan Am airlines. My own father was a Navy First Class Seaman who was injured when his ship was under fire in the South Pacific, while recuperating in a hospital from a serious crippling injury to his left leg which was shattered, he got malaria before being shipped back to the US to finish his college career at Tufts University losing his football scholarship due to his life changing injury.
    My brothers son (Staples High School graduate) finished two tours in Afghanistan as a Marine before graduating from UCONN two years ago. My niece his sister briefly attended the USCoast Guard Academy and finally I am the proud mother of my oldest son (Staples High School graduate) who has sworn to serve and protect our country from enemies here and abroad while serving in Washington , DC in the Department of Homeland Security ICE division.
    Reading this young mans bright honorable words to honor those who have served our country brought tears to my eyes Thank you Dan for publishing this.